Archive for February, 2013

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Funny the things that get talked about round a fire;old jobs, odd jobs, how many times you have needed the fire brigade. How many times they arrived.
It’s that time of year: rent collection.
AGM in October (when I was out of the country), the long dark nights and as the sun starts to rise in the skies it’s time to be brave, decide to take on the rain, pigeons and slugs again – and find the cash.
Never a question in our house. Between us we have three plots (one we have literally won back from an enormous, enormous in terms of height and width) and two that were in pretty poor health and plagued by more pernicious weeds than you could name (well certainly than I could name when I was first shown the ground!)
But this year a revolution; the events committee organised free bacon sandwiches (including a vegetarian option) and a social fire. I was put in charge of that – finding the fuel, the matches and organising some sort of Heath-Robinson way of keeping the assorted ironmongery (nails, hinges and chain) off the car park.
We have been given a state of the art beacon-type fire basket, so no mistaking this for a bonfire (bonfires are only allowed on Fridays, by agreement). The treasurer and secretary ensconced in the container that we took a risk on by filling with bags of compost (now only about a quarter of the initial stock remains – good investment by the shop committee). A couple of committee members manning the shop, the Chair there to cover unforeseen happenings and to smile and welcome people, events committee members behind the gas burners on the trestle tables … and me with a felling axe and firelighters !
But oh so successful. Instead of simply a taking-money exercise it became something of a social occasion: people bringing their butties and cups of tea over to the fire and chatting.
Ok, so it was what ordinary people might have occasion to say “it’s cold out today, I’m not going out until it warms up” … but we have decided to rent allotment plots and standing outside is par for the course. If there’s a fire and somebody to engage in conversation, hell it’s better than eating healthy chocolate!
The fires reminded some people of striking picket line protests back in the 1970s there were stories of where the wood came from to keep the fires going then – this was industrial action taken by the fire service, ironically, or where the bins came from that became braziers.
There was talk about solar-powered heating for domestic homes, memories of jobs done well, er and those done not so well, banter about choices of domestic heater and seed potatoes.
Successful because allotments need to be community places and we need to meet one another. Certainly on Saturday and Sunday I met people I have not seen before, first time   (good to see couples with young families taking on plots) and learned much about those I already know. The guy I was at school with now has too many chickens (would like more, but doesn’t have the space). Did I want a couple of bantams?
The cargo pallets that I cracked up to burn, along with some logs and bits from home burned brightly. There was rugby on the TV, but people stayed and chatted.
There’s something about a fire.




The End of the Ice ?



The clockwork catchment mechanism that runs the seasons moved forward a notch sometime on Thursday night. The axis of the earth has tilted on its gears and tips us towards spring. The days since have had sub-zero temperature nights, great for sky watching, and cold snap mornings, but the dawn sunlight has a different cream butter quality. Frost lying on the slopes of roofs, but overlaid with subtle gold leaf. And we have noticeably more daylight hours now with blue skies a bonus.

So, for the first serious visits to the plots. I have been up there, to look around, check for damage, dodge the rain, do a little bit … mostly remind myself that the bean canes (from three double rows, lodged any old ways in the shed) have to be tidied up before anything really significant can be achieved. Because, it’s impossible to reach the tools racked at the back of the shed or the lid off the box we store the netting in … or more importantly, maybe, enough room to set up the chairs for a cup of tea.

(New project is to find space and time to set up a gas burner so we can actually brew drinks up there rather than take a flask. Watch this space folks!)

So Saturday, Sunday and today jobs collided.

Some digging, Pruning the currants (red, white and black). Weeding out the spaces beneath the bushes, some chicken manure top dressing applied and then one of the mountains of bark chippings mulched beneath the rows. The couch grass nets and dandelions put ready for – weather willing – burning on Friday.

Also pruned back the blackberries and loganberries and tied in the runners to the loose wire frames. I know the frames should be tighter but lack the technology, the know-how or maybe just the sheer muscle to manage perfect tension.

Some head scratching about the hedges. The plot is in the bottom left hand corner of the site. We have a hedge that borders the road and another that I have tamed from its initial thirty foot height – no really – and monster width – to head height. Mixed blessing hedges. Great for wildlife, sheltering natural pests and predators in equal numbers. But need for management can be demanding; we are bound to cut the insides and tops of our hedges. The road one looks very gappy at the moment. It is a mature hedge and the plantings (dog rose, hawthorn, hazel, honeysuckle and privet) I have tried to fill the gaps is largely unsuccessful. This is almost certainly due to impoverished soil: the roots of the established hedge will take most of the nutriments and water … and partly due to the spurt of growth from nettles, blackberry and goose grass that will swarm up the rigging very soon now, shading out light and air. I am happy to have a headland effect next to the hedges, but at the moment I cannot help but think the gaps look ugly. Because of the holes the sound also carries through: teenagers chatting at the bus stop, wagons on their way to the quarry or taking some mazy short cut to the M6 even cars turning in to the garden centre across the road.

Replaced the open fronted nest box at the compost heap end of the shed. Nothing nested in it last year, but I have seen birds (robins, a wren, blackbirds, starlings and a song thrush) using the compost heap as a pit stop. Painted two sides of the shed with masonry paint (its not logical, but had some left over).

The seed potato orders have arrived, so collected them (seven pounds of Arran Pilot, seven of Wilja and fourteen of Desiree). Have the banana boxes ready to set them up.

And, yesssss! Organised the bean canes. Things are looking up!

18th February, 2013.

Candlemas Wisdom ?


I was reminded the other day of the apparent wisdom of the people who worked the land before our current stewardship. I will always have the greatest of respect for my maternal grandfather. It was he, after all who taught me much of what I started to learn about nature, observation and gardening. As well as letting me steer a tractor, feed milk cows and climb ladders while he thatched ricks.

But a shadow of a rhyme he used (or perhaps I simply attribute it to him, who knows?) jumped before me. We have been having what the media describes as “unseasonably heavy snow”. For me that would be blizzards in July and twelve foot drifts, but this is England on a slow news day … so what would I know?

strong>But on 2nd February, which I believe to be Candlemas, they very quickly disappeared, explained by the met office with science about warm fronts and ocean currents (last century’s weirdness is this year’s cutting edge perhaps?) but the notion returned.

“A quick thaw is a false thaw, snow will return for winter days more…”

My maternal grandmother always insisted that the Christmas decorations we forgot to take down on Twelfth Night should remain in place until this date, incidentally – and the one (and there always was at least one!) we forgot to take down was usually a holly sprig with berries that my grandfather had stood in a jar or tucked behind the walnut framed mirror …

Now I can’t swear those words are exact, and I cannot find these exact words in the belly of the oracle named Google, or her sometimes-false sister Wiki, but forgive me … I hope you get the gist.

So, while I was manfully fighting off a bit of a chill, with support and hot water bottles from the family, a wet weekend passed and snow fell across the land over Sunday night and into this morning.

In the way that things stay the same but names may change, the pagan festival of lights became unsurprisingly a Christian festival (Candlemas) and the church calendar took precedence. For me, it matters little except that one of the original significances of the festival was the indication that half way between the Solstice and the Equinox, it was usual for farmers (or those who worked the land) to begin to set up their fields again.

For this purpose it makes little difference, I humbly suggest, which deity is in ascendancy.

But little chance of plotholders getting back to the land today. Cold, wet and miserable. I am reminded that even my grandfather would have smiled, re-tied the binder twine he wore around his waist, made sure the fox hadn’t got into the fowl pen and checked the effectiveness of the thatching.

By evening, again the snow has mostly gone, but rumours of its return echo on the wind. Maybe in July?

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